The NBA probably won’t be back for at least another two months because of the new coronavirus safety guidelines that were released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday, but the expectation is that it will continue its season eventually. The same can’t be said of every American professional basketball league.
According to a report by Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews of ESPN, the 29 NBA teams that have G League affiliates, including the Los Angeles Lakers, expect the minor league season to be cancelled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak:
Teams have been told to stay in their respective towns through Monday and that the league would provide more guidance to them. The NBA is likely to wait on a formal announcement on the end of the G League season, but teams are operating under a belief that they’ve played their final game this season, sources said ...
Players were informed over the weekend that they would be receiving their entire base salary, according to a memo obtained by ESPN.
The South Bay Lakers weren’t in contention for a playoff spot with the third-worst record (19-25) in the Western Conference, so the fact that they won’t play out the rest of the regular season don’t mean much for them as a team. However, it could have an effect on a few players on the team, depending on how the NBA plans to resume its regular season.
Both of the Lakers’ two-way players — Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo — have spent the majority of their seasons in the G League. Antetokounmpo has only played a total of five minutes in three games for the Lakers this season, while Cacok has yet to make his major league debut.
Additionally, Talen Horton-Tucker, — the Lakers’ lone pick in the 2019 NBA Draft — has spent almost the entirety of his rookie season with the South Bay Lakers. The last time Horton-Tucker played for the senior team was on Dec. 22.
Of those three players, Horton-Tucker is the only that has a guaranteed spot on next year’s 15-man roster, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only player that deserves one. In fact, all three of them make a solid case for a roster spot next season.
Outside of Horton-Tucker, who looked like he was ready for NBA minutes before the G League season’s abrupt end, Cacok has been the most enticing prospect on South Bay by a pretty wide margin. In 33 appearances for South Bay, Cacok averaged 19.4 points per game on 65.9% shooting from the field, 11.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
Cacok can’t shoot the ball, or hasn’t shown that he can yet, but his soft touch around the rim makes him more than just an athletic dunker. He also competes on the defensive end, and he got better at defending in space over the course of the season. With some work in the offseason, he could blossom into a valuable undersized center in the mold of Montrezl Harrell.
As for Antetokounmpo, he’s just as raw as he was before the season started. He has all of the physical tools to excel at the NBA level, but he’s not skilled enough to play 3 or strong enough to play the 4. Luckily for him, he has control over both of those things, and at just 22 years old, another team will likely give him another shot next season (maybe even the Lakers!). It certainly helps that he shares the same last name as the reigning league MVP, who will have the opportunity to be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
We don’t know how the NBA will handle two-way players if and when it resumes its season if the G League season is canceled. Will they automatically be “called up” for however many remaining days they have of the 45 allowed per season? If so, this would result in Cacok and Antetokounmpo at least getting to be around the team for what it hopes is a championship run, even if they likely wouldn’t be active outside of emergency situations (Horton-Tucker will presumably re-join the Lakers given that his deal is guaranteed and he has nowhere else to go).
Assuming Cacok nor Antetokounmpo have player options in their two-way deals like Alex Caruso did last season, they will be restricted free agents this summer. If they do have player options and decline them, the Lakers will still have their G League rights. In other words, don’t be surprised to see one or both of Cacok and Antetokounmpo back in Los Angeles next season in some capacity, whether on another two-way deal, in training camp battling for a roster spot, or on the team in full.